Geishas and Google

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The Chinese government banned the film Memoirs of a Geisha earlier this month, demonstrating the futility of banning films in a country where 95 percent of DVDs are pirated. In Beijing, The Guardian reports, vendors don't even bother to put the film behind the counter. Other banned faves—Lan Yu, which manages to combine Tiananmen-related social commentary with a homosexual relationship, and the Chinese prostitute-packed Durian Durian—are sold openly next to uncontroversial pirated films, which in my experience will consist mostly of badly dubbed Vin Diesel flicks, South Korean melodramas, and at least a dozen copies of Titanic. No one in any of the media reports seems the least bit concerned about prosecution, and some vendors say they like the bans: They boost sales.

That dynamic—empty bureaucratic gestures that either can't be enforced or were never intended to be, followed by casual mass lawbreaking—isn't limited to film. Explains The Guardian:

Such is the hunger for information and debate on the web that news providers and commentators find ways to circumvent restrictions on sensitive material. Companies such as Microsoft help the authorities block sensitive words, but bloggers and forum commentators quickly introduce slang terms to get around these walls. Some use initials, others mix English and Chinese, still more add a space or exclamation mark in the middle of a sensitive word.

Despite Google's self-censorship, a search for "Tiananmen Square" on its China-based search engine produces several articles and pictures of the 1989 protests on the first page of results….

All of which is worth keeping in mind today during the Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/Cisco show trial about to take place in Congress.

NEXT: Another Profile In Courage

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  1. What do you all think about Google/Yahoo/etc.s’ claim that even if they have to be complicit in some evil shit to remain in business in China, the positive aspects of their presence there outweigh the bad that they’re forced to do?

  2. empty bureaucratic gestures that either can’t be enforced or were never intended to be, followed by casual mass lawbreaking

    Forget the Workers’ Paradise, China appears close to achieving a Libertarian Paradise!
    If you don’t count the tanks-squishing-the-protesters thing.

  3. A government too incompetent to impose its totalitarianism is not the same thing as Libertarian. (Or is it?)

  4. It seems China wants both Communism and Capitalism at the same time. Does China’s leaders believe they can have both?

  5. The Red Chinese never really wanted Communism – they wanted totalitarianism, with them in control. Trust me, they never ever planned on having the state (that would be, them) withering away.

    What they are now trying to accomplish is to graft crony capitalism onto their totalitarian dictatorship. There’s a lot of stinking rich Red Army generals alluvasudden, so it seems to be going well.

  6. I wonder if Windhorse – or any other film about their Tibetan occupation is (are) available under the counter.

  7. Sorry about the above post – I forgot the closing HTML tag after “Windhorse”.

    For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a story about a Tibetan brother and sister who wind up having to escape Tibet after helping their cousin, a nun who is beaten by the Chinese after she protests their occupation.

  8. “bloggers and forum commentators quickly introduce slang terms to get around these walls”

    What’s Chinese for:

    I’m so l33t!, i pwn u!

  9. government too incompetent to impose its totalitarianism

    Works for me.

  10. What do you all think about Google/Yahoo/etc.s’ claim that even if they have to be complicit in some evil shit to remain in business in China, the positive aspects of their presence there outweigh the bad that they’re forced to do?

    It seems to me that they already obey obnoxious laws in their home country. It is merely a matter of degree to obey obnoxious laws in another.

    In particular, anyone who claims that these companies are behaving badly when they limit search results as required by China’s restrictions on free speech needs to explain why they are not behaving badly when they limit their employees as required by the US’s restrictions on free migration.

  11. MikeP –

    It seems that it’s more heinous than that. Yahoo gave identifying information to the Chinese government who then threw a journalist in jail for 10 years for daring to make public the command not to talk about TSquare on the 15th aniversary.

    Forbes Article

    Sure to come up: the case of Shi Tao, a reporter for the Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) of Hunan, who forwarded, ultimately to foreign Web sites, his account of political directives to Chinese journalists forbidding the coverage of the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Paris-headquartered free-speech advocate Reporters Without Borders, citing court records, says Yahoo?s subsidiary fingered Shi by handing Chinese authorities the digital fingerprints of Shi?s e-mail. The evidence led to the journalist?s ten-year prison sentence last year.

  12. Definitely a futile effort. i was in China in late December, and copies of “Geisha” were everywhere. of course I snagged myself a copy…it wasn’t worth the 70 cents I spent. I love and live in Japan, but the movie is even more boring that actually seeing a Geisha perform (snooze)

  13. The Red Chinese never really wanted Communism – they wanted totalitarianism, with them in control.

    RCD, where do you get this from? My reading of the history books, especially things like the Cultural Revolution, don’t tell that kind of story.

    Mao was a romantic idiot — he really thought he could impose a “class-less” society. I thought that’s what it was all about.

    Sure they were totalitarians who intended to rule (no different from Russia in that regard). But at least some of them believed in communism too. And Mao was not an insignificant believer. Unless all the history books are lies?

    It seems China wants both Communism and Capitalism at the same time. Does China’s leaders believe they can have both?

    It seems they don’t have a choice, unless they’re ready to quash a revolution. Which I’m sure they aren’t afraid of doing in and of itself. But they may be just a tad afraid that they’d loose…..

  14. I miss being able to buy pirate DVDs in the swap meets of California…

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